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Special Feature - Seafood 101 initiative aims to hook kids on seafood

Child-targeted program puts focus on U.S. seafood, health benefits

By Melissa Wood
January 01, 2014

As a child in the 1980s, Rebecca Reuter remembers recycling as an up-and-coming trend first embraced by kids. The practice eventually became widespread after her generation encouraged their parents to do it too and continued doing it into adulthood.

She’s hoping Seafood 101, a government-industry partnership launched in Seattle this fall, will create the same type of generational shift: As kids learn about the health benefits of U.S. seafood consumption, they in turn will encourage their parents to eat more fish and grow up making seafood a greater part of their diets.

Unlike eco-labels and ratings systems, the goal of Seafood 101 is not to instruct consumers what to buy. It is to send the overall message that seafood is a healthy choice and to tell the story of the United States’ sustainable management of its fisheries.

“We really want to be educational, not exclusive,” says Reuter. “It’s about becoming more educated about what it is you’re buying.”

The idea grew from Reuter’s outreach work as a fisheries scientist/communications specialist for the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Center in Seattle. In 2011, she began working with the Seattle Times newspaper and its Newspapers in Education program, a national effort that provides lesson plans tailored to content from newspapers, to create a series introducing the process of getting seafood from sea to market. After her second series, explaining the science behind sustainable seafood and a conversation with a colleague from Alaska Sea Grant, also an Alaska native, who wanted to get her kids to eat more seafood, she decided to take the program a step further. 

“Here was a person whose culture was based on eating seafood, and they’re having a hard time getting their kids to eat their native food,” she says. 

So in 2013, with the support of industry associations and seafood businesses, she expanded the program to not only include the curriculum — along with a 12-page supplement that ran in the Seattle Times in October — but also cooking demonstrations and other promotional events throughout the region. 

The effort broadens NOAA’s Fisheries’ outreach from just explaining its work to fishermen and others in the industry to spreading the story of how it manages fisheries to the general public.

But that is no small hill to climb, especially with seafood, which is routinely associated with a negative message in the media. A 2009 John Hopkins University study found that out of 310 health-related news stories on fish found that “risk messages outweighed benefit messages four to one.” 

In addition, labeling and ratings programs often use NOAA data in making decisions but don’t tell the full story. For example, Reuter points out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program may give a species an “avoid” rating even though NOAA Fisheries may allow fishermen to catch a quota that is small enough for the population to rebound. Consumers should know it’s OK to eat that fish since it was caught under careful management guidelines. 

“It’s not as simple as red, green and yellow,” says Reuter. “There’s no way those colors can adequately describe or tell the story of what’s happening with the seafood industry. Things change. It fluctuates, especially with wild populations.”

It’s a story the U.S. industry wouldn’t mind sharing as well, and its involvement was critical to the program’s launch. Ken Saunderson, principal of Saunderson Marketing Group in Seattle, took on the job of Seafood 101 coordinator, enlisting partnerships within the industry to make the effort financially feasible. 

“We need to do, in my mind, a much broader outreach, so one thing I’ve really worked on in the commercial marine as well as fishing industry is to tell that story and really promote that this is an incredible industry with good-paying jobs, opportunities for young people and incredible economic impact,” he says.

Saunderson’s first job was to establish a partnership with the Northwest Fisheries Association acting as a neutral nonprofit that could accept funding (which NOAA is not allowed to do as a government agency). 

“Once we had that in place I went out to a variety of different companies I had relationships with to say, ‘Here is an opportunity for us to tell the story in more of an educational form,’ instead of saying, ‘This kind of seafood is good and this kind of seafood is bad,’” says Saunderson. “It was just a matter of me going door to door with companies. As with any new concept, it’s a hard sell because there’s no track record.”

Despite the newness of the program, industry players got on board with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Trident Seafoods, Alaska Seafood Cooperative, Freezer-Longliner Coalition and the Port of Seattle acting as the main sponsors with additional media and supporting sponsors. 

The Northwest office of Whole Foods Market based in Bellevue, Wash., made a three-year commitment to the program, and this fall held cooking demonstrations in its Bellevue and Seattle stores, which included a live broadcast with chefs Tom Douglas and Thierry Rautureau on KIRO Radio’s Seattle Kitchen show.

Industry sponsors also provided copy for the 12-page Seafood 101 supplement, which Reuter instructed them to write with the goal of educating readers about their part of the industry but not advertising their products.

For example, Reuter says Trident and supporting sponsor American Seafoods both wanted to talk about pollock and to show how the fish is 100 percent utilized. To do this, an illustration of a pollock highlights how each part of the fish is used, along with recipes for sole sliders and fish-stick lettuce cups.

The education continues on the next page with sections about the U.S. law governing fisheries, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and catch-share fishery management. The latter section describes how members of the At-sea Processors Association (APA) agreed on their own to adopt allocations, “leaving behind wasteful systems where fishermen catch as many fish as possible.”

Jim Gilmore, director of public affairs for APA, says one of the reasons he was excited about the project was the opportunity to tell the Seattle community, which associates the city with companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing, about the importance of its maritime heritage and industry.

Though his group came into the project fairly late in the planning stages, he has already begun planning a greater level of participation for APA for next year.

“The tough part just in the planning stage that I was involved with is there’s so many things to talk about in terms of the health of the stocks, how fish are managed, the types of science that goes into determining the fish stocks, the effort it takes to manage fish stocks and how to get fish products to the table,” he says. “You could do one of these supplements a week and not run out of material.”

Fisheries may be complex, but Reuter and other Seafood 101 participants are hoping it will spread the simple, straightforward message about the health benefits of seafood consumption and the sustainable management of the U.S. industry. The program can be duplicated in other regions, and Reuter, who has no shortage of material to continue in the Pacific Northwest, would also like to create a program about NOAA’s measures to ensure that U.S. aquaculture operations are sustainable. 

There’s a lot to talk about.

Email Assistant Editor Melissa Wood at mwood@divcom.com

  January 2014 - SeaFood Business

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